Take it Easy: The Eagles and Dementia

For most of my life, my grandfather Santiago was my best friend. I spent innumerable hours with him, many times one-on-one, traveling together in his old Ford, going long stretches of time without saying a word to each other. We enjoyed each other’s company like this. When we did speak, we spoke in Spanish.

Grandpa spent a significant portion of his life living in Los Angeles, leaving Monterey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico, in his 30’s. He and my grandma and my aunts and uncles transplanted to San Gabriel and then Rosemead. My grandpa did well to land a decent job, one from which he was able to retire, leaving him with ample to time to visit the local swap meets and drink beer with friends in his garage. My grandma was always throwing out the junk he brought home, but my grandpa would just replace it with more junk from subsequent swap meet excursions.

In all this time, my grandfather never made a genuine effort to learn English. My grandma did. I hardly ever spoke to my grandma in Spanish because her English was near flawless. My grandfather, on the other hand, said things like, “ok,” and “yes,” but he never really put a sentence together. Then grandpa got introduced to the Eagles.

I think it was either my cousin Raymond or Ernie that introduced Grandpa to the Eagles’ self-title album Eagles. Keep in mind that he got turned on to it almost twenty-six years after the album’s debut, but all of sudden, my grandfather was speaking English. Well, not really, but he did learn a phrase, one that would he often interject in his good byes to me.

He was pretty proud of his new found language skills. I first heard his new phrase when I visited him in Diamond Bar. He was living with my Aunt Teresa, and I was a student at Cal State Fullerton, about seven-miles away. I used to ride my bike to my aunt’s house just to see my grandpa. It was a win/win for us. He needed help with errands and car repairs and whatever, and I was usually hungry. He’d buy me lunch or we would make a lunch together in the house. Most of the time, however, we just sat and talked. We talked about baseball, about school, about our dreams (we shared a similar dream—one that no other person I know has had), and about our family.

On this particular day, as I was about to roll down the driveway and head back to Fullerton, my grandfather stood in from of the house and said “Ok, mijo. Take ed eezy.” It was funny to hear because he sounded like Tony Montana from Scarface, but I understood clearly what he was saying. He was saying, “Take it easy,” and he was mimicking the lyrics from the Eagles’ song of the same name. It helped explain why he would always ask me to play that song for him, and when Glen Frey sang, “Take it easy,” my grandpa sang with him. It was pretty cool. From that point on, whenever we said our goodbyes, we included “Take it easy,” and we laughed every time we said it. I don’t know why we laughed, but we did. As was always the case, after visits with my grandfather, I was giddy and smiling all the way home. I must’ve looked like a maniac on a bike, but I loved my grandpa and he always put me in a good mood.

A few years later, my grandpa was hit hard with Alzheimer’s and Dementia. I knew nothing of either. Circumstances brought my grandfather to live with my mom and my siblings and me, before the severity of symptoms came were apparent. He was my dad’s dad, but we were more than happy to have my grandpa live with us. I was especially happy about it. After all, he was my best friend.

The onset of full-blown of dementia and Alzheimer’s was gradual in my grandpa, and as it was, we failed to recognize signs that anything was amiss with him. I guess whenever something seemed odd, we just thought it was Grandpa being Grandpa.

One day, though, I arrived at home and found my mom crying in the garage. She was distraught, and I was scared that something tragic had taken place. I didn’t want to hear any bad news, but my mom’s face was telling, and so I knew something had gone wrong. It turns out, my grandfather had made an inappropriate pass at my mother. My mom took was taken aback by it.

The fallout was harsh. The worst part of the entire episode, besides my grandfather later losing his mind, was the fact that we knew absolutely nothing about dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. We had no experience with it, and we didn’t know anyone that suffered from either disease. With this being the case, my brother and I reacted, and we reacted with anger and resentment. I, for my part, felt betrayed by my grandfather. I couldn’t grasp what had happened, and any attempt to understand it just brought on more confusion and anger. Even my dad was angry.

It wasn’t until later, until it was too late, that we learned from doctors that sufferers of dementia are affected by unpredictable sexual feelings, depending on what part of the brain is effected. At the time, we failed to realize that my grandfather’s symptoms had reached a clinical level, but we couldn’t tell, for had we known, our collective reaction would have been more understanding. I wish I could go back to those days with the understanding I have now. Out of my own ignorance, I lost my best friend. In the end, my grandpa did not recognize me anymore. In the months and years since the episode at my mom’s house, I rarely saw my grandpa. By the time that love and forgiveness won out, it was too late. He didn’t know who I was. And so our ties were severed in the most unfortunate way. Being ignorant and failing to understand what was going on is a regret I still carry with me today.

Glen Frey died today, Monday, January 18, 2016. . Every time I hear “Take it Easy,” I always think of my grandfather, and when I do, the image always includes my grandfather laughing aloud with his head thrown back, just before he says to me, “Ok, mijo. Take ed eezy!”